Gender, Language and Discourse

By Ann Weatherall | Go to book overview

2

QUESTIONS OF DIFFERENCE: VERBAL ABILITY AND VOICE

Introduction

Sexism in language, discussed in the last chapter, was one of two original concerns of the gender and language field. The other issue was the question of whether women and men use language in different ways. An interest in sex differences in language use, like that in sexist language, has a history that predates the attention drawn to it by feminists in the 1960s and 1970s. For example, Bodine (1975) cited anthropological studies conducted by European scholars in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that reported differences between women's and men's speech in 'exotic' cultures (e.g. Asian, African and Pacific). It was not until the twentieth century that sex differences in the speech of Europeans were considered. One of the earliest discussions of sex differences in language as an everyday, rather than a remarkable, feature was a study by Jespersen (1922) who, in Language: its nature, development and origin, discussed both sex differences in verbal ability and female/male variation in language use. Psychological studies dating from the 1930s and 1940s began to chart the emergence of sex differences in children's language (see Maccoby and Jacklin, 1974).

Topics of sex differences in language have attracted such a quantity of research that Crawford (1995), in a review of the literature, suggested that virtually every possible source of language variation has been considered as potentially gender-linked. Paradoxically, despite all the research, few facets of language have been found that exclusively distinguish between the sexes (Ochs, 1992). Over the next couple of chapters, reasons why definitive answers to questions of differences have proved so elusive will be explored. An interesting issue that arises from the lack of closure on the topic of sex differences and language is when or whether questions of difference are worthy of the lay, media and scholarly attention they attract.

The area of sex differences in language covers a huge spectrum of subject matter that crosses the interests of various academic disciplines. For example, the topics of gender and voice, verbal ability and brain special-

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Gender, Language and Discourse
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Sexist Language 10
  • 2 - Questions of Difference: Verbal Ability and Voice 32
  • 3 - Women's Language? 54
  • 4 - The Discursive Turn 75
  • 5 - Gender and Language in Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis 97
  • 6 - Language, Discourse and Gender Identity 122
  • 7 - Following the Discursive Turn 146
  • References 157
  • Index 175
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